What is Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing About?
What is Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing about? Simply put, Homegoing is a family saga. It starts with two half-sisters, each with her own destiny, her own path. One is stolen from Africa and sold into slavery in America, the other is married off to a British slave-trader, her family later contributing to the development of Ghana’s middle class.
The story takes us on a journey of African and African-American history across 250 years and eight generations of the same family. Each chapter presents a new character, and through their eyes the changing times, the political currents that shaped these two nations.
This was the easy part. Telling you what Homegoing meant to me is a lot more difficult. First of all, I have to tell you about the structure of the novel. Each chapter can be read as a separate short story, yet the connection between them is so strong and so beautifully subtle at the same time, that the question of whether it is a novel or a collection of short stories doesn’t even occur to the reader. In this respect, the structure is in perfect harmony with the topic of the book. Homegoing presents a family that is torn apart, and yet, after many generations and hardships, there is still a strong sense of belonging (in some cases this is instinctive rather than conscious). Similarly, the chapters, though separate, still belong together, forming one of the best books I have ever read. It honestly never occurred to me before that a novel can be written in the way Yaa Gyasi wrote Homegoing.
Secondly, I need to mention how brilliantly Gyasi managed to present not one, but two histories of the same people. Through Effia and Esi’s families, we can learn a lot both about Ghanaian and African-American history. I have read many books about slavery and the effects of it on the everyday life of African-Americans today, but so far, the only book that I’ve read that touched upon the subject of Africa’s ‘contribution’ to slavery was The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and even that didn’t go as far back in time as Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Besides the fact that it is a literary masterpiece, Homegoing has historical value as well. And honestly, this is how I like to learn history: by reading about people, feeling their stories “inside of me” (Marjorie). Also, having a history teacher like Yaw certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
“We believe the one who has power. He is the one who gets to write the story. So when you study history, you must ask yourself, Whose story am I missing?”
“This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others.”
While this is valid everywhere around the world, it is basically the reality of African-Americans who – up until the recent “African ancestry” DNA testing – had no way of knowing much about their own personal history and heritage. Homegoing captures this sad reality perfectly. While Effia’s great grandchildren are able to trace back their family history to Effia herself, Essi’s descendants lose touch with their own cultural roots as they fight against being absorbed by the stereotypical views of white people living in America.
On a more personal note, Homegoing is the story of Yaa Gyasi herself, a Ghanaian immigrant who feels out of place both in America and in Ghana as well. Her novel is an attempt at bringing the “old culture” closer to the new one by pointing at the obvious genetic and historical bonds between Africans and African-Americans today.
Reading Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing made me even more interested in this topic (if it is even possible). I loved every character in this book, with all their beautiful flaws and perfect imperfections. Yaa is an amazingly talented writer and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next!
What did you think about the Cape Coast Castle and its treatment of black women? How do you think those men were able to make such a clear distinction between their “wenches” and the women in the dungeons? Is there any way their behaviour could be justified?
What did you think about the ending? (I don’t want to give away much about it, suffice to say that I loved every word of it and am curious to hear your opinions)
Did you have a favourite character? Who and why?
I wish I gave out more than five Foxes, because this one deserves at least a hundred. So 🦊*
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As always, thank you for reading!
If you would like to read more of my reviews, click here.
And if you are interested in the topic of slavery and African-American life, consider reading some of my other reviews written about books dealing with this subject.